Less than a week after the Redskins hired Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to be their new head coach, Minnesota hired Cincinnati’s other coordinator. Mike Zimmer, the defensive guru for the Bengals, was announced as the ninth head coach in the Vikings’ history on Wednesday.
The Redskins requested an interview with Zimmer per NFL protocol when you are interested in talking to another team’s coordinator about your head coaching job. But the interview never happened. The Bengals were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, Gruden came to town for his interview on Tuesday evening and he never left.
There were some who thought that Zimmer might be a better fit for the Redskins as they have had big issues have on the defensive side of the ball. Even with Marvin Lewis, who made his reputation on the defensive side of the ball, at head coach the Bengals finished no better than 17th in total defense from 2003-2007. Since Zimmer joined them in 2008 they have been in the top 10 in defense four times including the last three years in a row. Not coincidentally, the Bengals made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
Was Zimmer more what the Redskins need? They have not been in the top 10 defensively since 2009. As we saw from three of the NFC’s final four teams, a solid defense can be a young quarterback’s best friend. Defensive improvement may be the best way for Robert Griffin III to join peers Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton as participants in the deep rounds of the playoffs.
I don’t think that anyone would have had a legitimate beef if Zimmer had been the guy. But for this team at this time, Gruden is probably the better fit.
Zimmer’s approach is similar to that of the departed Mike Shanahan, the old-school my way or the highway style. Gruden can get riled up when it’s called for (as we saw on Hard Knocks) but he is more of the enthusiastic, collaborative type coach. He is the breath of fresh air that this team needs rather than more of the same following the failed Shanahan regime.
And make no mistake about it, the fact that he was a quarterback in college and in the Arena League is a big factor in him being the right guy for the job. The most important task on this team for the next few years will be the development of Griffin. The fact that the head coach walked in Griffin’s shoes (or a version of them, anyway) will help in getting Griffin where he needs to be.
Still, as noted, Zimmer would have been a very solid hire in Washington as well. The good thing is, we’ll get some evidence as to whether the Redskins made the right choice on the field of play. The Vikings will be one of the Redskins’ opponents in 2014. While on head-to-head matchup won’t tell the whole story it could give us an idea of who is further ahead.
The full story, of course, will take a few years to unfold.